As IAS aspirants you would know that there are two optional subject papers in the UPSC mains exam. You have to choose one subject as your optional from a list of subjects including literature subjects. Choosing the right optional subject is a tricky matter and many debates go around in the UPSC preparation circles on this topic. Some say there is no right answer to the question, ‘Which is the best optional in the IAS exam?’ This would seem true since every individual is unique and what worked for one may not work for the other. You must choose a subject based on your inclination and reasoning for it. Despite this, there are a few subjects which are ‘popular’ going by the number of candidates who attempt them. This article talks about the most popular optionals in the UPSC mains exam.
The most popular optional subjects are geography, public administration, sociology and history. These are closely followed by philosophy and political science. Among literature subjects, Hindi literature seems to be most popular.
Benefits of choosing a popular optional
- Easy availability of study material.
- Coaching would also be available readily.
- Since there would be a lot of aspirants with these optional subjects, you will find a lot of folks for discussion and group study.
- You will get some peace of mind thinking you are going with the flow. (This can help psychologically.)
- Some subjects like history, geography, political science and public administration have a lot of overlap with general studies.
Pitfalls of choosing a popular optional
- The competition would be intense for these subjects.
- Since most of the aspirants would be preparing from similar material, you will have to differentiate while writing the answers to score better than your rivals. This would require some creative thinking.
- The scoring tends to be strict since there are many people attempting them.
- If you have no real interest in the subject that you have chosen, you will find it difficult to study and get marks despite its popularity.
- Going by popularity alone would perhaps be a mistake since if you have thorough knowledge in the subject of your graduation (which doesn’t happen to be a popular optional), then you are probably better off taking that subject as your optional provided it is offered by the UPSC.